I should have done chemo in Italy. Italy fulfills all of my chemo diet requirements: delicious pastas with cream sauces and tasty cured pig, fresh spaghetti with simple olive oil and garlic (con aglio olio), pineapple gelato, creamy risotto, artichoke and Parmesan salad with fresh peppery olive oil, insalata caprese (with heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella), white truffles, porcini mushrooms on anything, fresh fennelly sausage bursting out of its casing, pizza with crust so thin it’s transparent covered in fresh mozzarella and a hint of basil and some of my tears as I eat it, lovely little cafes where I can drink tea or cappuccino with foamed milk so stiff a spoon stands up and watch people who care about their appearance go about their daily business while I write amusing anecdotes for your reading pleasure, and, oh, the shoes! But I digress.
If you had asked me a year ago about the food I eat, I would have told you fresh organic veggies, fruit smoothies, lots of black beans, green tea, red wine or a fun vodka martini but only on occasion, organic meat but never pig, no cow milk products, no wheat, no peanuts, eggs (preferably poached and therefore farm fresh), dark chocolate, raw protein powder mixed with almond milk, and, very occasionally, a baked apple dessert product. I’d been on this food choice regime for so long that breaking it created problems: wheat made me swell; cow milk products gave me horrible gas, and pig or lots of alcohol caused self-loathing.
When I first landed in hospital land, I did my best to stick to my food choices and, for the most part, succeeded. I was on tons of steroids (solumedrol), so I was eating piles of food (leftover beef BBQ on chicken pad thai, no peanuts, with steamed broccoli anyone? And no, that wasn’t available at the hospital. I owe a lot of my friends a lot of take-out.), but sticking to my regime. Right up until my first round of chemo. I don’t know if it was the prednisone, the chemo, the fear of having cancer and being on horrifying drugs, frustration that I had been in the hospital for almost two weeks, or sheer exhaustion, but if I could have main-lined my friend Liz’s fettuccini carbonara, I would have.
My insatiable appetite for all things wheaty, dairy-y, and delicious waned a bit between cycles, but would rev right back up the second I got back in the hospital. The best part? My body didn’t react negatively at all. In fact, I lost weight.
My husband and I recently spent a week in Italy. He was there for business; I was there to eat. Pizza in Naples (otherwise it’s focaccia and closer to Chicago deep dish than I would prefer), fried artichokes, steak in Florence, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes that have no business being as fresh as they were in early December, cured pig (“everything’s better wrapped in pig,” I informed my husband at breakfast the first morning while wrapping Tallegio in prosciutto before stuffing it in my mouth with glee), chocolate sorbet gelato, and PASTA. Carbonara, Bolognese (“ragu” when we were actually in Bologna), aglio e olio, cacio-e-pepe, amatriciana, and one decadent evening with white truffles. Despite walking all over the place everywhere we went, I ate so much food that I gained five pounds. And have never been happier or felt better.
All of my old friends that I saw while visiting my parents over Christmas had lots of things to talk to me about, but the one that stood out was, “you look amazing. Your skin is clear, your eyes are bright, you simply look amazing. What are you doing?”
Liz: pull out that pancetta, I’m coming to visit.